We’re a little concerned the animals at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park might start feeling lonely this April. That’s because Kid’s Trek, the new nature-inspired (and absolutely worth the drive!) playground opened. Once your little adventurer sets eyes on it, we’re not sure the allure of bears, wolves or even a baby moose Willow sighting will be enough to pull her away from this half-acre climbing, sliding, building, digging, splashing wonderland. Read on for the exciting deets and remember to say “hi” to the animals when you’re there, too!

Kids Trek big tree with Kids Ingrid Barrentine

photo: Ingrid Barrentine

Play the Natural Way
The Treescape
The undeniable centerpiece of this awesome new play space is the 20-foot tall, old-growth tree trunk that’s hard to miss. It’s a sure bet your little climber will make a beeline for this impressive feature right away. Here, mini players will find cargo net ladders to climb from one netted floor to the next and a 15-foot fireman’s pole perfect for quick escapes. The netted tunnel is another exit route for younger climbers, but it’s just as thrilling making the crossing up high as it is sliding down the pole. Keep your ears open for a special (surprise!) greeting as you reach the top of the tree. It’s one of the many realistic details that makes this play space so much fun to explore. The scorch marks on the tree are another. Let your kidlet know they’re reminiscent of the big fire that burned through the Trek property back in 1924.

Boy sliding pole Kids Trek Ingrid Barrentine

photo: Ingrid Barrentine

This large area is also where your wiggle worms will find the two different slides. The twisty slide, monitored by a watchful mountain goat, runs through a large rock before spilling out near the twisty rope ladder. Its entrance is a bit hidden, but once your little explorer finds it, they’ll be back again and again. The other slide is a side-by-side with super smooth walls just begging for a head-to-head racing pair. On your marks, get set, go! Up top, kiddos will find the Eagle’s Nest, perfectly perched to test balancing skills. Whether they’re walking around the edges of the spider web-like ropes, or trying to make it to the middle where they can rest easy, it’s a challenge worth trying.

eagles nest boys jumping kids trek ingrid barrentinephoto: Ingrid Barrentine 

The Construction Zone
Budding builders will find hours of inspiration in the Construction Zone, just off the entrance. Here a simple hollowed out log, sideways tree stump and gigantic stick stuck in the ground become the building bases little engineers dream of. And the building materials they get to use? Large, smooth sticks piled in like-sized bins make the best lean-to’s, teepees and forts. Ever! Keep a watchful eye on this productive play, as some of the sticks might be taller than your sidekick!

Boys in construction zone kids trek ingrid Barrentine

photo: Ingrid Barrentine 

The Log Cabins & Sandpit
There are two sweet spots just the right size for tot lot players to explore. The first is a pair of log cabins, custom built for mini me’s to play house or serve up a side of wood chips for lunch. In one, there’s a tree stump that easily doubles as a table and the other has benches at just the right height all around. Outside little jumpers will find tree stumps (a throw back to the family that originally owned the acreage that became Northwest Trek) in a circle, spaced just right for hopping from one to another. It’s one of those simple, engaging ideas you wish you’d thought of!

Tree stumps kids trek ingrid barrentine

photo: Ingrid Barrentine

The sizeable sandpit is the other draw for the wee ones. Complete with shovels and pails (although you can bring your own, too!) there’s plenty of space for everyone to construct towering, Olivia-sized sandcastles or more modest ones too. Our favorite part? The small waterfall that keeps a continuous supply of wet building sand coming. Because that’s how you build when you’re not at the beach!

Girl in sand pit at Kids Trekphoto: Allison Sutcliffe 

The River
Adding to the natural, day-in-the-forest ambiance is the peaceful brook that runs from the upper level to the lower, with plenty of bridges to cross. On a hot day, it’ll be the deliciously cool spot to dip toesies, splash and play. On cooler days, it’ll be the same, but with rain boots instead of bare feet. The water’s barely ankle deep, but keep a watchful eye on the tot lot as they waddle around playing. And no need to worry about clean water here. The re-circulated river is treated and safe to play in, so bring a change of clothes because when there’s water, there’s always a way! And if the temptation to grab a drink it just too much, direct your petite posse to the hand pump’s potable water. It’s a great place to quench your thirst on a sunny day!

Kids with beaver at Kids trek

photo: Kris Sherman

Focus on Sustainability
One of the feel-good aspects of this new play space is its focus on green building and green living. Like the animal park its located in, Kids’ Trek aims to teach the next generation about sustainable, eco-friendly practices, even when they’re just monkeying around. They might not know it, but you can feel good knowing the over 60 benches where parents can relax and watch their Littles romp, were milled from downed or hazardous trees on the Trek property. And the over 600 sword ferns you’ll find dotted among other Northwest native plants are all original inhabitants, lovingly removed, cared for and then replanted as part of this sustainable vision. Even the giant building sticks in the construction zone are in on the “treecycle” action. They’re naturally tumbled logs taken from the Nisqually River. And the water that cascades lazily through the middle of the park? Yep, it’s recycled too. Underground and back to the top before making its way under the beaver dam to the playful otter sculptures. Although the water’s not potable, it is safe for kids to stomp and splash around in, so be sure to bring rain boots and water wear for cooler days, and maybe a change of clothes for those hot summer days when your little explorer will find the river irresistible.

photo 2

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Pack a Picnic
The covered picnic area right off the construction zone is a great place to unpack a snack and take a load off with your sidekick. The tables are first come, first serve, but they’re also not the only picnic benches in the park. So if you can’t find a spot there, don’t be afraid to walk across the lawn to the larger pavilion, if your mini me can be peeled away, where more covered seating is available. And if you didn’t quite pack enough, the café is just across from Kids’ Trek, so ducking in to grab some snack supplements is a cinch.

photo 4photo: Allison Sutcliffe 

Wild Days of Play
New playground, new program, sounds right to us. The first Saturday of the month, starting at 11 a.m., kids ages 5-12 can participate in specially themed programs that highlight connections between animals and the environment. Expect games, activities, crafts and stories during this educational-packed hour. No need to register, just come as you are to Kids’ Trek.

baby in sand play area kids trek ingrid barrentine

photo: Ingrid Barrentine

Host a Birthday Bash
If you’re thinking amazing outdoor summer birthday bash at Kids’ Trek, we’re right there with you. Families can book a party now for dates after May 1. The package ($299.95) includes 90 minutes at the Kids Trek pavilion to nosh on cake and food and open presents from all your Little’s friends and family. Plus all the Kids’ Trek playtime they can manage during open hours. Plus, up to 15 guests (kids and parents) get reserved seats on the Discovery Tram Tour, where party-goers can play iSpy with elk, deer, moose and more as they wind around the property’s lush 435 acres. Throw in a few add-ons like a Nature Exploration Cart or Animal Close Encounter and you’ve got yourself a wildly good time for your little party animal.

Kids Trek entrance with kids

photo: Kris Sherman

Good to Know
Admission to Kids’ Trek is included with your Northwest Trek Wildlife Park entrance fee or membership, if you have one. And although the new play space may be your reason for making the drive that day, there are tons of other things for you and your sidekick to explore while you’re there.

Northwest Trek Wildlife Park
11610 Trek Dr. E.
Eatonville, Wa 98328
320-832-6117
Online: nwtrek.org

Dates & Times: Opens April 2, 2016. Mon.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: $21.95/Adults; $13.95/Youth (5-12); $10.95/Kids (3-4); Under 2 Free; special discounts for military families and Pierce County residents

Do you plan to visit Kids’ Trek? Tell us about your experience in the Comments below!

— Allison Sutcliffe